Detective team John May and Arthur Bryant are often tasked with solving seemingly unsolvable crimes in their work with London's Peculiar Crimes Unit. But at the start of Ten Second Staircase, Bryant and May have a bigger problem: the head of their unit feels they're incapable of doing their jobs at their age and wants them removed for incompetence. Bryant and May get a chance to prove themselves when a criminal who leaves the symbol of a highwayman at the site of a murder starts killing celebrities with poor or controversial reputations and no apparent connection. The two detectives use everything from traditional police methods to more supernatural approaches in their efforts to get to the bottom of the crime spree, which reminds them of another case they faced years ago and never solved.
For the first half of Ten Second Staircase</em?, it's hard to tell how Bryant's speeches about mythology and crime will tie in with the unit's unsolved Leicester Square Vampire case or the Highwayman murders. Eventually, though, Fowler resolves the mystery in a way that is startling even as it brings the book's themes full circle.